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Lucchino amassed Hall-worthy list of deeds

If the Baseball Hall of Fame is for the men and women who had a lasting, dramatic and positive impact on the sport, Larry Lucchino is a no-brainer.

Take a look around baseball today. Pretty sweet, huh? Whatever happened to those cookie-cutter ballparks anyway? Remember when a trip to one baseball stadium felt a lot like a trip to every other baseball stadium?

Twenty-five years ago, Lucchino decided to change that. He had some help from a brilliant architect named Janet Marie Smith, whose contributions to our sport are so immense that there's a ridiculously easy case to be made for her Hall of Fame credentials as well.

Kennedy to replace Lucchino as Red Sox president

But I digress.

At that time, Lucchino was president of the Baltimore Orioles, who were about to get themselves a new place to play. If you're of a certain age, you might not remember how people thought of baseball stadiums back then:

"Seen one, seen 'em all." If you were in Pittsburgh, you were also in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Also Seattle, San Diego, Atlanta, and so on.

They were built a certain way to accommodate both football and baseball. Problem is, they weren't very good for either sport.

So Lucchino got this idea ...

Let's pause right here and say a few things about Larry Lucchino, who announced on Sunday that he'll be stepping down as Red Sox president and chief executive after the season.

He's a brilliant man, a world-class CEO in every sense of the word. To work for him -- or to cover him -- is to be engaged, challenged and occasionally chastised. He'll turn 70 next month and says it's time to slow down -- which, of course, is laughable to the people who've known and admired him over the years.

But let's be serious: He will not retire. He may pour himself into getting a new ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox for a while. He'll find something else, too, three or four things, most likely. He definitely will not retire.

OK, back to Baltimore. Lucchino grew up in Pittsburgh and fell in love with Forbes Field. Forbes Field was from another time and place. It's how baseball parks once looked. They were constructed of brick and steel and wood. They were intimate. They were unique.

They reflected their communities, in part, because at times they had to be squeezed onto a small parcel of land, which led to some odd nooks and crannies.

Lucchino began collecting books on those parks -- Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds and Crosley Field and the rest. He wondered if a park like that could be built in Baltimore, but with modern amenities. He noted that Wrigley Field and Fenway Park were still pretty spectacular places to watch games.

And thus was born the idea that led to Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Right at the start of the design process, he banned the word stadium around the Orioles.

There would be no stadium. There would be a park. And that's exactly what Camden Yards became -- brick, steel and an industrial feel for an industrial city. It was cozy, too, just like Forbes Field, the park of Lucchino's youth.

On the day Camden Yards opened, in 1992, Cal Ripken Jr. walked onto the infield, looked around and said words that ring in Lucchino's ears today.

Said Ripken: "It feels like baseball has been played here before."

And baseball would never be the same. A new generation of baseball facilities was born, all of them building on what Camden Yards started. From San Francisco to Denver, from Cleveland to San Diego to Philadelphia to New York, baseball has been reshaped. Baseball's parks are comfortable and breezy, all of them reflecting the cities in which they stand.

Yet Lucchino is reluctant to take credit for any of this. He will tell you that a lot of people contributed to the idea, including his mentor, the late Edward Bennett Williams, the former Orioles owner.

But the kernel of the idea began when Lucchino wondered why baseball couldn't have an updated version of Forbes Field. And for this alone, for fundamentally making a sport better in ways we take for granted, the Hall of Fame ought to throw open its doors to this man.

Lucchino's legacy is incredibly rich. He ran the Orioles, Padres and Red Sox. He also won a Super Bowl ring while with the Redskins. He got ballparks built in Baltimore and San Diego. He oversaw a series of upgrades to Fenway Park, adding seats and creature comforts while keeping the essence of the place.

His mantra: Do no harm.

Lucchino had a sensitivity for what the Red Sox mean to their region, and in some of the worst of times -- most recently, the Boston Marathon bombing -- the club touched its community with astonishing and moving tributes to honor heroes and victims.

Oh, and there was that other thing he accomplished during 14 seasons with the Red Sox. That whole Curse of the Bambino thing was cast aside, with three World Series championships in a 10-year stretch.

If you're of a certain age, you might not understand that Boston went 86 years between championships. For that alone, Lucchino will live forever in the hearts and minds of New Englanders. But his impact resonated far beyond Boston.

Baseball is far, far better because of Larry Lucchino. He may have miles to go before he really and truly retires, but at some point there should be a plaque with his name on it in Cooperstown.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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